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Why Hillary Clinton is the Donald Trump of the Left

Posted in Uncategorized on May 1, 2016 by onlookerslowdown

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If you just went on images from rallies, you would think that Bernie Sanders would be running away with the race for the 2016 Democratic nomination. If you went on the basis of marches, murals, bobblehead dolls, homemade posters and T shirt designs, you would think that he’s in the lead.

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Given that he started polling at 3% a little over a year ago and now is neck and neck with Hillary Clinton nationally, his rise has been phenomenal. The fact that President Obama mentioned him by name at his final White House Correspondents’ Dinner (an annual comedy show) tells you that he has gained notice in all of the nation’s inner circles.

So why has Secretary Clinton still earned so many votes? After all, she’s not as progressive as Bernie Sanders is. She doesn’t want to tax financial speculation to pay for tuition at public colleges and universities. She doesn’t want to make ending war a priority; in fact, it’s likely that she will be more aggressive in foreign policy that President Obama was, and she might even be more aggressive than a President Trump would be. She doesn’t want people to make a minimum wage of $15 per hour. She says sometimes that $12 would be neat, but she doesn’t say it very often. She doesn’t want to break up the big banks, and she doesn’t want to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act that would regulate Wall Street. It’s pretty clear that Wall Street influence on her campaign is keeping her from being all that enthusiastic about any sort of financial regulation, in fact.

So let’s look at some of the possible reasons. It’s fairly clear that a lot of people, particularly older people, are ready for there to be a woman in the Oval Office, and they think that Hillary is qualified to be that woman. She has been a senator, and she has served a term as Secretary of State.

She also has a strong following in the African-American community,  particularly in the South. This seems to date back to the days of Bill Clinton, when he was a master of assembling a party machinery, oozing empathy all the way and promising that he could beat the Republicans. It also has to do with the fact that Bernie Sanders still didn’t have a lot of name recognition in the South by the time those primaries came through.

Some people say that there has been a widespread campaign of fraud. While there are Department of Justice fingers prying the Arizona results, and there is a whole legion of lawsuits probing the New York primary, it’s difficult to say, at least for now, that these discrepancies aren’t anything more (or less) than a rash of incompetence in the election administrators of county party structures, which are accustomed to much smaller turnouts than what we have seen this year.

But here’s another reason. I think there are a lot pf people who don’t like the GOP but don’t want to do what Bernie Sanders wants to do either. Bernie Sanders is about giving all people — particularly those at the bottom of the social ladder — a stab at equality. Free college — if they qualify for admission. A $15 minimum wage. A real fight against climate change. Health care coverage for everyone, at a cost less than what people who have insurance are paying now.

Why don’t so many of these self-identified Democrats (who, allegedly, are the liberal party in the United States) want these things? Here is what I imagine is going through many of their minds.

Well, if the kids get to go to college for free, they won’t have to work as hard as I did. Besides, if you can’t afford college, and you can’t afford the loans, is that really my problem?

Well, if we give people a $15 minimum wage, my prices might go up. Besides, I don’t work for minimum wage. Teenagers work for minimum wage, and then those who are going to do well go to college and avoid the minimum wage later.

Well, if we really fight climate change, I won’t be able to get gas for less than $2 a gallon. I think that electric cars are really cool. Can’t I just get one of those? I don’t live in a neighborhood that has a fracking tower, and I don’t live anywhere near Flint. So that doesn’t really have anything to do with me.

Well, if we bring about real social change, that could help people who, in the dark recesses of my mind, people who didn’t work as hard as I did might get what I have.

The great thing about the Clinton campaign in 1992, and the Clinton campaign in 2008, and the Clinton campaign in 2016, is that it gives people who like to think of themselves as liberals coverage.

Just like voting for Donald Trump gives conservatives coverage.

Donald Trump represents the id of a part of the American populace; he represents what happens when the anger of a people turns against those who are on its edges. Hillary Clinton gives those who cling to some of those same prejudices — but realize that the GOP has stopped even pretending to serve the people — cover. So they choose an option that sounds reasonable, gives lip service to progress, and then services the same corporate interests in a quieter way. That is why Hillary Clinton is the Donald Trump of the Left: she is the outlet for their unstated willingness to leave the poor, the disenfranchised, the polluted, the broken, where they are, while the rest of us get back to watching television.

So if you think that Hillary Clinton is a better option than Donald Trump (or Ted Cruz), you’re right. But if you think that she’s a better option for all of the American people than Bernie Sanders, then you really need to rethink your perspective on the very least of our nation. Trump, Cruz and Clinton are all willing to let them suffer for four or eight more years. We finally have a candidate who is ready to represent everyone.

Trump or Cruz would march us into fascism, whether motivated by xenophobia or misguided theology. Clinton would leave us exactly where we are, because her corporate paymasters like the status quo, and the balance sheet of the Clintons shows you that they like it as well. Only Bernie Sanders would take us up toward greatness as a nation, as a people, as a society.

But greatness is costly and uncomfortable. The next generation is ready to embrace it. Why aren’t the rest of us?

 

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From John Lennon to #Bernie2016

Posted in Uncategorized on February 10, 2016 by onlookerslowdown

Lennon

I was looking through some old binders in my sons’ room the other day, and I came across a collection of drawings that one of my boys had started in the first grade. At the time, he wanted to keep his artwork in a binder and keep adding to it. His drawings are not the stuff of a budding Picasso, but they represent his way of seeing things, his visions of the world around him.

Over time, he stopped drawing and took up sports, as many boys will do. Baseball. Basketball. Soccer. Football. Now, his vision is a future as a general manager in the NBA or the NFL. What’s important is that he still has a vision, a dream ahead of him.

Keeping a vision and a dream in front of you is what keeps you young. It is what keeps you energetic. It is what makes you compelling. The vision and the dream can change, but losing those is the only thing that can push you “over the hill,” not turning 40 (or 50, these days).

When I talk to people my age (I’m 44) about the rise of Bernie Sanders, my friends talk about how there’s no way that his ideas can come to pass. No way the health insurance industry will go gently into that good night, even if some of its workers could stay in order to run a compromise in which elective procedures and cosmetic surgeries could be covered through private insurance policies on top of what people are now calling SandersCare, a general care system overseen by the government.

They’re saying that there’s no way that Bernie Sanders has any idea how to handle foreign policy. The villains in the Middle East will run roughshod over the aging VW Bus that they imagine would be Bernie’s motorcade.

They’re saying that there’s no way we can afford free college for everyone. After all, they’re saying, not everyone needs to go to college. There are plenty of trades that people can pursue — and earn even more than degreed professionals make.

For me, the most important part of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy is the fresh perspective he has brought to the idea of government. We had almost accepted that the government was an entity we couldn’t trust — after all, Ronald Reagan told us that, and he ended the Cold War, right? And so after 9/11, we began to accept the possibility that government was there to oversee us — not to work for us. We accepted the growing tendrils of government surveillance of us; we accepted the metastasis of war from something we do to fight evil to something we do to bolster our economy. And so what had once been a frightful tale came closer and closer to reality:

1984

We even came to love the dystopian novel. We adored Katniss’ salute; that little Mockingjay pin became so popular that several other authors decided to pen their own awful visions of the future and use a symbol that looked just about the same. But the implicit message was this — that this was what the future would be like, and there wasn’t a thing we could do about it.

But to accept this missed the real message of 1984 and all of those other books that came after it, warning of an awful future if we didn’t change:

Orwell

Orwell, and those like him, didn’t want us to settle for the future that was coming for us. Instead, the hope was that there would always be truth-tellers, and that they would represent our conscience, keep us moving toward what is right, what is good, away from what we know to be just good enough.

Because “good enough” soon becomes awful. It becomes toxic. How do I know this? Because of the water in Flint, Michigan — which was “good enough” for the people in Flint because it made life easier for the government functionaries. Because of the water that comes out of the ground near “fracking” locations throughout the United States, rendered dangerous by the natural gas emissions that are necessary for that cheap gasoline that we all love. All of these things are “good enough” for now, and they end up costing us dearly.

The difference between what is “good enough” and what is “right” is compelling for those who are tired of settling, tired of compromising. It’s one thing to compromise for the greater good of everyone. It’s another thing to compromise for the interests of those who don’t have anyone else’s good in mind except their own.

How do I know that this difference is compelling? Because of the raw energy at work in some of the art that young people are posting about the Sanders movement. Some of it is silly, some of it is stupid, but it is all a sign that people are thinking, people are hoping, people are believing that this year, this year, things can be different. Take a look:

Yes, some of it is silly (these are from a Facebook group called Bernie Sanders’ Dank Meme Stash)::

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A lot of it is inane:

But a lot of it is sincere and heartfelt:

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A lot of those ideas scare people who have locked their visions and dreams away, or who have simply forgotten about them. After all, it’s a scary world out there. There are immigrants coming to take our jobs; there are terrorists coming to blow us up; there are poor, lazy people who want to spend our hard-earned money.

But those aren’t the things that should really scare us. It’s not like ISIS or al Qaeda poisoned the city of Flint. It’s not like Saddam Hussein destroyed the I-35 bridge through Minneapolis. We poisoned our own water because we were too busy watching TMZ to advocate in our communities. We let our bridges, roads and schools crumble because we’re too busy moving into gated communities and shopping on Amazon and worrying about what’s happening down at the southern border of the United States.

Guess what? The corporate interests will let us. Because none of those causes bring them profits.

So what’s the difference between #Bernie2016 and Hillary? It’s the difference between dreaming and settling. It’s the difference between changing the nation and believing that the items on that list up there are just pie in the sky. Who needs privacy rights when the terrorists are coming? (And how many companies are willing to donate huge money to make sure that our representatives don’t believe in privacy rights) Who needs veteran care? That’s just money down the toilet, because those servicemen and servicewomen knew what they were signing up for. Who needs equality? All of my friends look like me anyway.

So if you support Hillary, that’s fine. If she wins the Democratic nomination, I’ll most likely agree that she’s a better choice than whichever lunatic emerges from the Borg cube that is the modern GOP. But you’re not supporting America’s possibility if you support Hillary. Instead, you’re supporting what we can get to work. And what will sneak through Congress. And what will likely evaporate once Hillary no longer has Bernie Sanders reminding us that a progressive believes in just that — in PROGRESS. In moving toward a better society, not finding ways to entrench the shoddy ways of living, of thinking, of voting, of dreaming, that we’ve accepted…because they’re “good enough.”

Just Say Yes: #Bernie2016

Posted in Uncategorized on January 26, 2016 by onlookerslowdown

When I was a kid, I learned in school that the American Dream was out there waiting for everyone to claim its promises. From those early years, when the New World was still a wooded canvas that Europeans had not yet managed to win to the ways of God, Gold and Glory, the seemingly infinite expanses seemed a tabula rasa that people could turn into anything that they wanted.

The Puritans, of course, imprinted their vision squarely on the new continent, even though they only clung precariously to its northeastern tip during their early years here. The idea was that hard work was its own reward; those who did not prosper were simply not working hard enough.

So if you weren’t realizing the American Dream, you just weren’t working hard enough.

That’s why so few people cared when those rubes fresh off the boats ended up working for nonexistent wages in the Chicago meatpacking industry after some sharpies had signed them to predatory mortgages on homes that were too shabby and shoddy to provide decent shelter for an extended period of time, which is what made it so fortunate that the immigrant families ended up in foreclosure instead.

But then it turned out that more people cared than Capital had thought, and the Progressive movement was born. Such oddities as a minimum wage, protections against child labor, safety standards in the workplace and protections against fraud slowly eked their way out of the primordial ooze. This is when Teddy Roosevelt rattled his big stick and tried to take on the trusts, urging Americans to protect themselves from a growing inequity of wealth.

It turned out that the protections didn’t quite hold. So when the Dust Bowl wiped out so many American farmers in the Midwest and when the speculation bubble burst in the financial industry, the Great Depression made the Republic twist in the winds of disorder not heard since the fields of Antietam.

So in came Teddy Roosevelt’s cousin, who instituted what many called “socialism” back in the day in the form of the New Deal. That Puritan work ethic reared its Iagoesque head, trumpeting that if people were not lazy, they would not be poor. If those Okies had just worked harder, they wouldn’t have had to limp their way to California, lured by flyers promising a lot more jobs than were actually available, so that the fruit growers could control wages and shuffle through workers as quickly as injuries and deaths could get the existing ones down off the ladders.

But then came World War II — arguably the real rescuer of the economy. We needed so many tanks, bombers, fighters and carriers to fight the quite real menace presented by Hitler, Tojo and their ilk that factories jolted into action and people jolted back to work.

So war changed from being an occasional crisis to a necessary prop for the American economy. Ike warned us about this growing complex, but we didn’t listen. After all, radio had become television, and the television developed color. We almost learned what peace could be during the 1960s, but President Johnson decided that he could send half a million men to Vietnam AND fight the War on Poverty, and he basically failed at both.

So today, when writers brush the popularity of Bernie Sanders off as some sort of 1960’s pipe dream, they take that same Puritan work ethic back out and shake it at us. Those lazy hippies were too addled on drugs to do anything meaningful, right? Where did that peace movement get us, anyway?

President Carter tried to call us back to the sort of idealism that could have led in such a better direction. But then came the Iran hostages. Then came President Reagan, who used the icon of the Western cowboy fighting the Russian bear to distract us from what we could be. Instead of peace, he promised us a real-life Star Wars. This iconography dragged the Democrats to the right, giving us Bill Clinton, who excelled at the saxophone, who dripped with sincerity, but who also told us that the “era of big government” had come to an end.

But it didn’t, did it? It just took on a different shape. Yes, we trimmed spending on social issues, but then we started spending money off the books. The war industry, which had steadily grown during the Cold War, now found a happy target in the Middle East, where the terrorism never ends and all we have to do is keep sending drones in to ensure that the anger against our country never passes. That’s why there is an entire generation of Iraqis who have grown up knowing nothing about the United States except as a source of destruction raining down from the skies, of torture of its citizens — anything but the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

But then something interesting happened. It looked like we were going to have Hillary Clinton against whomever the Republicans could prop up, maybe Jeb Bush, or Marco Rubio. The same tired arguments of the past two decades — should we dismantle government like the Republicans want (which means shutting down more of the publicly accountable side of the government and throwing more cash into the maw of the off-the-books side, either by growing the military even further or giving more tax breaks to the corporations and the 1%) or should we make some incremental changes to public policy that sort of tug things a little to the left while we still let the shadowy forces of the military establishment and the large corporations keep draining the economy?

Because that’s what Clinton vs Whoever would have represented. But then some strange things happened, called Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. They are both candidates driven by anger — Trump taking the anger of the Right, particularly the working-class Right, and forging it into a message that addresses their fears (immigrants taking their jobs, all Muslims somehow sharing the radical beliefs of the terrorist minority, those hedge fund managers screwing the rest of us) in a shrill, vague, bombastic torrent that could sweep him to the nomination.

But what of Bernie Sanders? Here’s why I’m voting for him.

Some people say that Sanders is soft on foreign policy. But, as Atticus Finch used to ask, Do you really think so? He thinks that we should help the Middle East resolve its difficulties — but that THEY have to resolve them. Do you really think that radical Islam would be able to market the United States as the Great Satan if our warplanes and our drones and our soldiers went home? Do you really think that a giant caliphate would form and then take over the United States from across the globe? Or does the fact that al Qaeda and ISIS have already turned on each other tell you that our advisers, our troops, our weapons aren’t the answer?

Some people say that Sanders’ solutions represent “pie in the sky.” Free college for everyone. Single-payer health insurance. However, for just eight months of the Iraq War, we could have paid for ten years of free college for our next generation. What’s the better investment? Lockheed-Martin might tell you one thing, but what makes more sense? If more than 30% of people would ever bother to vote in an election, if they were presented with these choices what do you think they would say?

Some people say that Sanders’ single-player health insurance plan fell apart in Vermont because of its sheer cost. However, it looks like political realities facing then-Governor Shumlin played as big a role as the cost in ending that experiment. And who is Shumlin endorsing in the Democratic primary? Hillary Clinton, who has cashed millions in checks from the pharmaceutical industry.

Some people say that Bernie needs to be tougher on gun control. But his point that a law-abiding hunter who wants to carry his rifle in checked luggage should be able to do so resonates. Before we launch some sort of massive buyback of Americans’ guns, we should make the background check system and the mental health system stronger so that more and more of the people who have access to guns are the ones who won’t cause these atrocities.

Bernie Sanders represents what America would look like if you took the wonderful part of the American Dream and left that shadowy Puritan caveat out of it. If people are willing to work hard in pursuing their dreams in life, they should be able to have a level playing field awaiting them when they finish learning what they need. We need to let go of that idea that everyone who is struggling is doing so because they are lazy.

What does that mean? If people get sick and can’t work, they shouldn’t go into bankruptcy because insurance only pays for some — or because they can’t afford the insurance that’s available.

When children enter school for the first time, the relative financial success of their parents shouldn’t determine the quality of their learning environment. That’s not what a “level playing field” means.

When trouble springs up across the globe, our first response shouldn’t be to scramble the jets and fire up the drones. It should be to initiate dialogue, to find alternative solutions. This doesn’t mean that we should stop being vigilant, because the geopolitical calculus can shift radically in a matter of minutes. It does mean that we should think, think and think again before we send our children, our young men and women, off to carry what really are, if we think about it, weapons of mass destruction, because they kill our enemies, but they also kill innocent civilians, and they warp our own soldiers in the process — an epidemic that we have not yet shown the will to eradicate, because that fight doesn’t enrich the defense contractors, doesn’t resolve into a 140-character sound bite.

Bernie Sanders represents new solutions to a set of problems that have plagued us for decades — if not longer. These are not easy solutions — they require thought, they require dialogue, and most importantly, they require that we set aside that impulse to judge one another, to look down on those who haven’t attained our level of success. They instead require that we assume the best of one another and demand the best of ourselves.

Before you tar me with the sticky pitch of the mindless tax-and-spend liberal, you should know that I’m just as tired of wasteful, corrupt government entities as Rand Paul is. However, I’m also tired of corruption in the private sector. I’m tired of greed running rampant simply because it can.

So why Bernie Sanders? Because he calls to the best of our natures. It’s easy to drown out the best and accept the mediocre, the acceptable. It’s easy to drown out the best and listen to the worst, to let the anger have its way.

I’m ready to listen to our best impulses for once. While I accept that Hillary Clinton could also win the Democratic nomination and represents a better solution than Donald Trump, Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz, I believe that a Bernie Sanders presidency would allow what is terrific, what is wonderful, what is transcendent about each of us to shine forth in ways that the Republic has never seen.

 

The Limits of Performance Art

Posted in Uncategorized on February 12, 2012 by onlookerslowdown

The Postcard KillersThe Postcard Killers by James Patterson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What is art, anyway? It used to be the hasty drawings of people who lived in caves and wanted to leave some record of their experiences on the walls. Later, it took the form of paintings of religious scenes and portraits of and for wealthy patrons. However, in modern times, thanks to the advent of the camera, artists moved beyond accurate visual representation, progressing towards abstractions that represented ideas, movements, and experiences. During the last fifty years or so, the definition of art has grown even further, including performance art — people carrying out actions, in various states of dress, that express their ideas.

Mac and Sylvia, the killers at work in Patterson and Marklund’s thriller, send postcards to journalists in various cities in Europe, with the curious phrase: “To be or not to be in (that city’s name).” A few days later, the journalists receive a picture of the couple that the killers have slain, and then mutilated — in imitation of famous works of art. They are chased by the relentless NYPD detective Jacob Kanon (one hopes, a close literary relative of Kafka’s Josef K.). His daughter and her fiance were among the first victims, murdered in Rome while on a trip which he had given them. His guilt propels him furiously around the Continent and, finally, to L.A., and then back to Sweden for the climactic confrontation (that takes place, actually, in the parking lot of the world’s northernmost IKEA).

As all of Patterson’s books tell you, he’s been on the New York Times bestseller list more often than anyone else. His formula works — it pulls you along, entertaining with the shock value of the killers’ honeymooning feel. Their definition of “performance art” makes for an intriguing book. It would have been nice to know what Sylvia meant by “party time” about halfway through — that’s a thread that never quite gets tied off.

  
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Awaiting the Axe

Posted in Uncategorized on February 12, 2012 by onlookerslowdown
Cuts are coming….what would you let the education budget writers take?    

A lot of ink has gone to describing the budget crunch that the Texas Legislature faced last year as it planned the next biennium. Many state services faced major cuts, as the Legislature and Governor Perry opted not to use any of the “Rainy Day Fund” to make up some of the funding shortfall.

Public school funding dipped by 6 percent for the 2011-2012 school year and is expected to drop by 8 percent for 2012-2013, according to NPR. (Just in case you remember that NPR can trend liberal, conservative outlets such as the Dallas Morning News have reported the same numbers) While some districts were able to get by with cutting some fringe benefits and simply not filling some open positions, instead of cutting their work force, the Leander school district (an Austin suburb) had to lay off 50 classroom teachers as part of a $20 million cut. In poorer districts, parents are being asked to pay for bus transportation and athletics. In the Pasadena district, 180 teachers were cut for this year. People who had filled such support positions as bus drivers, school crossing guards and inclusion aides have been let go in large numbers.

So here’s the question: what will be cut next? More teachers? More support staff?

Or will we actually take a hard look at the structure of our education model?

Linus Wright, superintendent of the Dallas ISD from 1978 to 1987, recently suggested a series of changes to the existing system. One idea involved having students graduate after 11th grade and, instead, fund a year of preschool before pre-kindergarten, letting kids enter at the age of 3.

No senior year, you say? Did you know that Texas students didn’t have a 12th grade until 1941? Because of the lingering effects of the Great Depression, too many high school grads were wandering around without any jobs or anything to do, so the state added a year of education. It would be interesting to see what would have happened had the United States entered World War II with Great Britain, in 1940, and given those kids the opportunity to enlist — would students still graduate at 17?

Cutting teachers means increased class sizes. Yes, there are plenty of teachers doing truly awful things that land them in jail — and in the news headlines — and there are plenty of lazy teachers who hide behind union protections and “due process” to hold onto their jobs much longer than they should. But the silent majority of teachers work hard, dedicated to the success of each student.

It may be time to consider opening several different educational pathways to success. The cookie cutter-approach of having every student follow the same basic set of experiences, including classroom instruction through kindergarten and all 12 grades, doesn’t work for everyone, as the success of such online schools as Yorktown Education suggests. For those who want a public or charter model, there is a growing number of alternatives as well.

It’s also time to start thinking about the unspoken sacred cow of the public education system — athletics. (Full disclosure: in addition to teaching English, I coach volleyball, basketball and track and field). But are multimillion-dollar stadiums an effective use of taxpayer money? Gasoline is currently $3.49 a gallon — at what price point will it no longer make sense for schools like Texas High School in Texarkana to travel all over Northeast Texas to play its district opponents?

Here’s a thought — what would happen if school districts leased their athletic facilities to private organizations to operate their team sports for them? Parents would pay a fee to enroll their children in the sport(s) of their choice, and the districts could make money from the leases. Teachers who coach now could sign on with the private organizations. Instead of paying coaching stipends to classroom teachers, districts could get a full academic day from each teacher, and coaches could then augment their income by coaching through these private organizations.

But what about losing free athletic participation? In many districts, there is a fee structure in place for athletes anyway. Instead of supporting athletics, schools could benefit from it. Teams would be associated with the organizations, instead of the schools.

But what about pep rallies? In Europe, sports are run through clubs — not through schools. The students still find ways to build school spirit, even without cheerleaders.

It’s time to start thinking about the way we structure education in the United States. Simply letting more teachers go and letting infrastructure decay for another year, hoping that the next two-year cycle brings rosier sales tax revenues, is irresponsible thinking. It’s almost like…waiting until the next election cycle to deal with the coming Social Security calamity. Oh, wait…..

Image Credits: By b.gliwa (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

CSI for your Kindle…

Posted in Uncategorized on February 9, 2012 by onlookerslowdown

Deadly ChoicesDeadly Choices by Jennie Spallone

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoy most of the crime investigation shows — the CSI’s (especially New York, although hearing David Caruso’s witty one-liners keeps the other characters in the Miami version from making me through rocks at the television) and Law & Order (SVU when Munch is there, or Criminal Intent). The story arcs get fairly predictable as far as timing — although the most predictable is on House, where you can count on the furrowed eyes and the epiphany at :48 past the hour — and although you know when the twists are coming, you don’t know what they will be.

Jennie Spallone’s “Deadly Choices” was quite a bit like reading one of these shows. Beth Reilly, a medical librarian-turned-paramedic trainee, is in the ambulance with her partner, Angie, who developed a nasty coke habit in Vietnam but has successfully managed to cover it up and earn some medals for bravery as a paramedic. Angie snorts once too many times, though, and ends up running over a pregnant, homeless girl. Because she doesn’t want to risk the damage of reporting an accident that happened while she was driving high, she wants to flee the scene.

Beth notices that the woman is about to give birth, though, and so she delivers the baby while Angie fumes in the ambulance. They take the baby with them, and Beth convinces her friend, Sue, to hide the baby amongst her other seven foster children. Sue agrees, even though all of us know that she shouldn’t, because she could lose her foster parent license and send all seven of the others to terrible homes.

Beth’s fire captain is the uber-prototypical sexist firehouse lug who hates having one woman in his house — let alone two. If throwing used sanitary napkins at the women in his house doesn’t make him evil enough, he has a stock of illegal porn in his desk and has a habit of snooping through his people’s lockers. He finds Angie’s diary, where she happened to record the accident, and uses it in a blackmail attempt on Beth. Fortunately for Beth, though, he dies after trying to attack her at her home, during this attempt.

The twists and turns of this book are surprisingly bracing. At times, it veers from “CSI” quality down the road of such shows as “Rizzoli & Isles,” in which shadowy clues become ironclad evidence in a matter of seconds, and the character development relies more on stereotype rather than the detail that would make characters like Sue and Reverend Luke intriguing, rather than confusing.

On the whole, though, I enjoyed the brisk read, and it is a story that will definitely make you think about the choices that people make when they think they don’t have any choices at all.

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Next Week’s Episode on "Criminal Minds"?

Posted in Uncategorized on February 8, 2012 by onlookerslowdown

As a teacher, it is frustrating to read about professional colleagues of mine who use their position to bully or abuse others. Whether it’s a teacher who just enjoys having authority over others, or to make them feel inferior, it’s just wrong.

But when I read about sociopathic predators that do such awful things to children that the writers of Criminal Minds haven’t even touched yet, things like the unspeakable acts that Mark Berndt and Martin Bernard are alleged to have done to their students at Los Angeles’ Miramonte Elementary School, according to the L.A. Times, I wonder what has gone wrong with us as a species. The details are available on that link from the paper; be warned that they are extremely graphic and troubling.

And the parents at Miramonte are up in arms, as they should be. How did behavior like this go on IN THE CLASSROOM without anyone noticing? Their colleagues didn’t notice that they were demented? Their supervisors didn’t notice any red flags in their behavior? After all, it appears now that a teacher’s aide at the school also sent love letters to a student. What on earth was going on?

How should a school district respond in a situation like this?

Well, the L.A. Unified School District is replacing the entire staff at Miramonte. Teachers, counselors, administrators. All replaced by “teachers and other workers on a rehiring list” (again, from the L.A. Times). We’re talking about over 150 people. They’ll still get their pay and benefits (as they should, since they haven’t been implicated in anything), as will these new staff members who were waiting to be rehired.

How is replacing an entire staff going to improve the situation, though? Want to put administrators who should have noticed this on leave, pending the investigation? Fine by me. Want to hold them accountable for not noticing the sexual predators on their staff? Again, fine by me. Good administrators know their teachers, know their weaknesses, know their strengths.

But the first-grade teacher who got hired two years ago, who didn’t really know these two men? Should she be sent home? Should she have this cloud hanging over her? Should her personnel file have this temporary leave in it?

Should all of the other children in the school, who have bonded with their own classroom teachers, who have built relationships of trust with them, now have to learn from people who got RIFed and were sitting at home waiting for another spot to open up? A whole school full of RIF castaways? How effective will that instruction be?

It is extremely important for the investigation of Mr. Berndt and Mr. Bernard, and any others at the school who were also carrying out monstrous acts of abuse, to be thorough and complete. If they are convicted, they should be locked away from society until they are carried out of prison in a box. Their victims deserve nothing less.

But what about the other students? What about their teachers? This decision answers no questions, brings no closure. Instead, it sends the more than 1,500 students of Miramonte Elementary School into a whirlwind of doubts, questions, and potentially worthless instruction — a whirlwind that their parents may need months to help them escape.